Nik Wallenda's life on a wire

Nov 03, 2014, 08:03 IST | Yoshita Sengupta

Multiple record-holder Nik Wallenda will attempt to tight rope-walk over 50 stories above the Chicago River without a net or harness, as 220 countries will watch him perform this feat live

Nik Wallenda, a seventh-generation performer from the 'Flying Wallenda' family, members of which have been walking the tight rope for close to 200 years, is all set to attempt his most challenging tightrope walk yet.

Nik Wallenda
Nik Wallenda seen here practicing for his Skywire Live , on June 11, 2013 in Sarasota, Florida. Pics Courtesy/Discover channel

More than 50 stories high above the Chicago River, a blindfolded Nik will walk further than two city blocks, uphill rising to a 15-degree angle, without a net or a harness, as the world watches the act live in more than 220 countries.

Nik Wallenda

mid-day caught up with the eight-time world record holder for an insight into his everyday life, family and what motivates him to put his life on the line, almost every day.

Q. Why? After your grandfather plunged to his death while trying to walk a cable between two 10-story buildings in San Juan, Puerto Rico, aren’t you afraid of meeting the same fate?
A. My great-grandfather Karl was and is a huge inspiration in my life. I do everything because of him. He lost his life walking between two skyscrapers and in 2010; I recreated that exact walk that took his life alongside my mother. I believe in him and I do what I do not to outshine him, but to shine a light on him.

Q. What are you thinking when you’re on the rope, blindfolded, winds blowing, knowing that the world is watching you?
A. I’m trying to keep myself calm and collected and that’s really what it's all about. I’ve got to stay focused. What runs through my mind is my training, the fact that I’ve trained on a wire, at this degree and at this angle. I talk to myself; I tell myself, ‘you’ve done this before. You know you’ve done it in worse conditions. You know you’ve been able to walk up inclines steeper than this. You’ve done it in torrential rains. You’ll be able to make it across’. I’m my own cheerleader at that point. I’m building confidence in myself that I’ll be fine. It’s important that I can continually talk to myself and tell myself that it’s not any harder.

Q. You have eight world records to your name. Why do you continue to put your life at risk? What are you trying to achieve? Or, to simply put, what’ll be that one achievement after which you’ll think you’ve done enough, and stop?
A. I’ve got a job to do. My job is to keep the ratings high, and how do I keep the ratings high? Well, I better do things that are mind-blowing. To me, this is mind-blowing. My great grandfather Karl Wallenda had a saying, life is on the wire, and everything else is just waiting. For our family, life has been on the wire. We’re always waiting for that next wire walk. I look forward to every performance. I look forward to entertaining people. It’s what I love to do. It’s impossible for you to understand this because you weren’t born into a family that has been doing this for 200 years. I’m 35 (years-old) and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I’ve always had this dream of recreating my great grandfather’s greatest walk; the one over Tallulah Gorge. It was a walk that was almost 900 feet-long and about 700 feet-high in the mountains of Georgia, over a gorge. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

Q. There was a time when you almost didn’t pursue a career in tightrope walking. Tell us about that.
A. While growing up, I worked in a restaurant where I waited tables; I bussed tables since I was 15. I was the general manager of a restaurant for a while; I love business in general. I also nearly went to school to become a paediatrician. I have thought about going back to school to get my medical degree.

Q. Would you want your kids to do what you do?
A. To them it’s what their father has done his entire life. It’s not as though after my kids were 15 when they first saw me on the wire. They’ve seen me do this their entire lives. I have walked some thousands of miles on cables and my kids have been there for those events. So for them it’s not as dramatic as for someone else watching and all of my children are great on the wire. But none of them, at this point of time, want to pursue this as a career. One wants to be a doctor, other wants to be a physicist and one of them wants to be a veterinarian. But, they’re still young. My 15 year-old, I think, has his mind set on going to college. The other two are fairly young.

Nik Wallenda’s Chicago Skyscraper walk will be aired live today at 5.30 am on Discovery Channel with a special telecast at 9 pm.

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